CFI funding will allow OVC prof to obtain state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment
BY ANDREW VOWLES
A U of G veterinary scientist hopes his newly funded study of epilepsy in dogs will help doctors diagnose and treat the disorder in humans.
Prof. Roberto Poma, Clinical Studies, has received more than $80,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for comparative studies of human and canine epilepsy. The grant — to be matched by provincial and private funding — will allow him to obtain diagnostic equipment not found in any other vet school in Canada.
“The idea is to create a comparative epilepsy program to use the dog as an animal model to study epilepsy,” says Poma, whose new funding was announced this spring.
As in people, epileptic seizures occur spontaneously in dogs. Seizures may be general or focused and are often triggered by unknown causes. (Studies using rodents require researchers to induce seizures.)
He will use his new equipment to study electrical patterns in the brains of dogs to learn how and where seizures occur. He hopes to pinpoint differences among breeds, perhaps analogous to the roughly 20 forms of the disorder that afflict humans.
“It's possible that some canine epilepsy is exactly the same as we see in humans,” he says.
Working with neuroscientists at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and at the University of Montreal — and at universities in the United States and Finland — Poma will also provide blood samples to help hunt down genetic markers for epilepsy.
As the most common canine neurological disorder, epilepsy affects two to five per cent of dogs. It's particularly common in such breeds as German shepherds, border collies and cocker spaniels.
Poma hopes to help veterinary clinicians in diagnosis and treatment. (That includes his wife, Becky Valentine, a University of Saskatchewan graduate who completed an internship at Guelph and now works at an emergency vet clinic in Toronto.)
The new equipment will include two electroencephalography units, one stationary and the second to be worn by a dog at home. Both instruments will come with a video camera to capture both brain activity and physical symptoms. Poma also plans to use magnetic resonance imaging to get a more detailed picture of the disorder.
With another new device, he will test a possible alternative treatment for dogs, using a hand-held coil to deliver magnetic impulses to the brain. He hopes to use transcranial magnetic stimulation to raise the seizure threshold, thus preventing seizures from occurring.
About 0.6 per cent of Canadians have epilepsy, for which there is no cure. The disorder can be treated with surgery or drugs, but medications are often unreliable, says Poma, who joined the faculty of OVC in 2004. He had spent three years at U of G as a staff veterinarian after completing his D.V.Sc. in neurology in 2001. He earned a DVM in his native Italy in 1995.
Explaining his “passion” for neurology, he says: “The brain is a fascinating component and structure of the human body that we don't know much about.”
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